CHARLES TOWN — Maybe money does grow on trees.
Or to be more exact, logs from local trees — Appalachian hardwoods like walnut, cherry, ash, maple, poplar, hickory, cedar and a couple of kinds of oak. All of which are regularly hauled to the Shenandoah Planing Mill, where huge saws turn them into slabs, flooring and more than 7,000 different made-to-order trim mouldings.
Since the spring of 2019, the hardwood lumber mill at 471 Cold Storage Road has been a center of the county’s woodworking industry, a destination for professional, residential and commercial builders, antique furniture restorers and do-it-yourselfers, said John Van Vliet, 57, of Harpers Ferry.
Van Vliet started Shenandoah Planing Mill with his daughter, Amanda McDaniel, 33, of Charles Town in a leased 40,000 square-foot former apple-packing house for Winchester Cold Storage, which operated in the space from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Van Vliet retired after working on the road for years for several commercial construction companies in the Northeast.
McDaniel, of Bolivar, graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in family science. She was a stay-at-home mom to her two children before joining her father in the business.
Van Vliet’s son, Tommy, and Casey, his son-in-law, work in the business.
“The history of this building is important to us,”McDaniel said. “We feel like we’re bringing back a type of business that no longer exists.”
“The look of this building is part of the experience, it’s like coming to an old mill, not a warehouse in an industrial park,” Van Vliet said.
He said McDaniel has the drive to learn the wood business. “She’s excited about the potential it will have for the family.”
“It’s not easy,” McDaniel said. “I can learn how to do just about anything but I had a lot of catching up to do about the wood industry.”
The planing mill is licensed to buy logs from loggers, tree-removal companies, trees cut through proper forest management, Van Vliet said.
“We work with the West Virginia Division of Forestry,” he added.
For people who grow attached to a tree on their property that has to be removed or cut down, as sometimes happens after a storm, Shenandoah Planing Mill can help make sure that tree lives on after it’s removed.
“We can take your tree on your property and turn it into flooring for your house in one month.”
Van Vliet likes to talk about “the witness tree,” a 300-year-old white Oak at Sam Michael’s Park that ended up at Shenandoah Planing Mill after it blew over in a storm. Lumber from the old tree, which witnessed the Revolutionary and Civil wars, is sought after to make furniture in area homes.
The building that houses the mill is old but much of its machinery is high-tech. A good example is the modern vacuum kiln that turns out lumber faster, straighter with more consistency in a tenth of the time of traditional kilns, Van Vliet said.
Robert Braun, a Jefferson County antique furniture restorer, was in the mill recently looking through the hundreds of bins holding thousands of trim moulding samples. He was looking for a specific moulding for a window valance for one of his clients.
“They have a paralysis of choices here,” Braun said.
Van Vliet said half of the mill’s customers are do-it-yourselfers, 30 percent are local contractors and 20 percent are large commercial contractors, home builders, architects and interior designers.
In addition to the four family members, the mill’s three other employees are Laurel Tyrrell, the bookeeper, and two shop workers, Doug Stehr and Lars Prillaman.